A series of articles by Edward Newman.
Zoologist of 1873, Second Series – Vol. VIII.
Part 1. September issue pages 3861-3876.
Part 2. October issue pages 3701-3711
Part 3. November issue pages 3741-3759
Part 2. October issue pages 3701-3711
(Continued from 3676.)
Era II. Literary, Poetic and Fashionable.
In this second era or campaign, as I may call it, Mr. (now become Dr.) Bowerbank resigned the command, which, like Alexander's, was divided amongst four of his generals, Warington, Gosse, Mitchell and Rymer Jones.
Mr. Robert Warington, of Apothecaries' Hall, not only devoted every spare moment of his life to experimenting on different forms of vessel, different arrangements of light, and different combinations of inhabitants, in order to ascertain the fittest, but he introduced a new element, substituting salt water for fresh, marine animals for fresh-water animals, sea-weeds for Valisneria. I was a constant visitor at Apothecaries' Hall, and found Mr. Warington ever ready to exhibit and explain his experimental proceedings, for it must be admitted they were experimental; for unlike Mr. Bowerbank, who seems to have attained success at a single bound, Mr. Warington had to think out his plans, and as his was altogether new ground, or rather new water, he was subject to repeated failures and disappointments, but eventually he triumphed over them all.
At our delightful reunions at Mr. Bowerbank's, first at Critchell Place and afterwards at Highbury, the lamented David William Mitchell, then the energetic Secretary of the Zoological Society, who was ever on the alert for something to “draw,” was a frequent visitor; the sticklebacks arrested and riveted his attention, and he was not long in taking a lesson from Mr, Bowerbank's book: every one urged it; and Mr. Mitchell listened with marked attention, and conceived the project of an aquarium in the Regent's Park. With Mr. Mitchell there was seldom much time lost between the conception and the execution of a plan. In this instance these followed each other with unparalleled rapidity; he commenced building forthwith, ordered his tanks, and stocked them with their appropriate inhabitants, availing himself of every observation previously made either by Mr. Bowerbank or Mr. Warington.
On Saturday, May 21st, 1853, as reported in the 'Athenaeum' of May 28th, there was opened at the Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park a building or room for the express purpose of exhibiting living marine animals. This building, I believe, received at the hands of the Council the title of "Marine Vivarium," but this inflated appellation soon became toned down by the visitors to the more modest and less assuming one of "Fish House," which it has borne from that time to the present. I extract from the 'Athenaeum' of Saturday, May 28, 1853, the following details, which will be interesting as a contemporaneous record of a notable event, and as inaugurating the second era in aquarium history. Moreover, it has the advantage of incorporating an account of the prior but more humble efforts, in the same direction, of Sir John Dalyell and Mr. Warington, and this saves me the otherwise necessary labour of describing the very important result of the indefatigable exertions of these distinguished aquarians.
"Fresh-water fish were tried first in these gardens. Perch, pike, roach, dace, eels, sticklebacks and minnows were all to be watched, and their domestic secrets and most retired proceedings to be brought to light. The grand experiment, however, of making a little ocean, a miniature sea, in which we might look on the habits of the creatures of the great deep had yet to be made. Sir John Dalyell, it was well known, had kept a sea anemone alive for twenty-eight years, and numerous other marine creatures for less periods; but then throughout these twenty-eight years every morning he had had sea-water brought to his house. It seemed almost impossible to bring up sufficient quantities for such a purpose into our inland towns. Gradually it became known that by aerating the salt water by means, of filtering or agitation it became fitted for the support of animal life. Here then a chance of success to an object long desired seemed to present itself, and the enterprising Secretary of the Zoological Society determined to make a trial on a small scale. He began with sea anemones and some of the more hardy shell-fish, and succeeded most satisfactorily. While, however, this experiment was in progress a fact of much greater importance became known. It had been observed by vegetable physiologists that plants purify a small quantity of water just as they purify the air, - that is, by taking up carbonic acid and giving out oxygen, - and here was the explanation of the fact of animals living for any length of time in a limited quantity of water, provided there were plants enough to take the carbonic acid which the animals threw off, and supply the oxygen which they needed. The question naturally arose, why should not sea-weeds do the same for sea-water as fresh-water plants do for fresh water? Various dredgers and sea-shore naturalists had successfully had recourse to this plan; but we believe the merit of first having perfectly succeeded with an arrangement of the kind in London is due to Mr. Warington. By arranging sea plants and animals in a limited quantity of sea-water, he so maintained the balance of animal and vegetable life that for several months they required neither fresh water nor any mechanical aeration. It is the adoption of this plan on a large scale that constitutes the novelty of the Vivarium now opened to the public in the Zoological Gardens. At the present moment there are in the glass house six large tanks of glass containing marine invertebrate animals and fish. These tanks have been arranged in something like zoological order. The first contains a variety of crustaceans, crabs, lobsters and shrimps. Here may be seen in living activity species of these creatures only to be caught by the dredge, and which have been only occasionally seen when cast up on our coasts or pinned down in our museums; several of the spider crabs - which are inhabitants of the deep sea - will attract more attention among these specimens. In the second tank is a collection of Echinodermata. A third tank contains a collection of sea anemones or animal flowers. The more common forms of these lowest members of the great family of polyps are scarcely unknown to the least curious visitors of our sea-coasts, but it has fallen to the lot of few to see them to such advantage as they now may here. In variety of colour they almost vie with a bed of tulips, and they will enable the observer to understand something of the beauty which arrests the attention of the traveller in the South Seas, where these creatures and their allied forms abound. The naturalist will also find in this tank some of the less common of the species of the family Actiniadae which are found on the British coasts. In a fourth tank is a collection of the British Mollusca. Those who gather shells by the sea-shore will recognise many of their old acquaintances in this department, but no longer as uninhabited dwellings. Each contains its proper tenant. Several species of ascidian Mollusca are found here, whose rough membranaceous and ungainly exterior would hardly lead to the conclusion that they are allied to shell-fish at all, did not their interior inhabitant reveal the fact. In another tank a highly interesting group of Mollusca, the nudibranchiate, are to be seen. These have no shells, and are remarkable for their delicate colouring, and for the curious forms assumed by their gills or breathing organs, which being placed outside of their bodies have got for them the name of naked-gilled. The species of this family belong to the genera Doris and Eolis. In the fourth tank are also contained some species of barnacles and sea-acorns (Cirripedia), which, with their hard molluscous-like shells, were once included under the Mollusca, but are now known to have an internal structure which allies them with the articulated tribes of animals: in this tank are some small species of sea-fish, including the blenny, the fifteen-spined stickleback, the wrasse and the father-lasher (Cottus bubalis). The Annelides are represented in several of the tanks by species of Aphrodite and the beautiful Sabellae. Many of the leaf-like and vegetable-looking objects at the bottom of the tanks are popularly called sea-weeds, and demand a microscope to make out clearly their animal nature. Nevertheless a sharp eye will detect a downiness on the surface of their bodies, which is the tentacle of the minute creatures that inhabit every portion of their structure, and are the representatives in our seas of those mighty workers, the coral animals of the southern ocean. The present collection is, we believe, only an earnest of future development. Some marine creatures, such as the jelly fishes, are not at present represented, but before the summer is over a collection of these fragile forms will undoubtedly find a place in the Marine Vivarium of the Society."
The aquarium immediately became a fashion, a rage, an infatuation, which, now that we are sobered down and are able to regard a stickleback with equanimity and a sea anemone without any sensible increase in the rapidity of pulsation, it seems difficult to realise. The press lent its powerful aid to this result. A judicious publisher is not he who invents, but he who avails himself of an invention! a man who embarks his capital in a ‘Principia' or a 'Paradise Lost' will be esteemed a man of discernment by future generations, but will not be remunerated by the present. The successful journalist follows, while he is supposed to lead, public opinion; he deludes even himself with this gratifying but shallow fallacy. It was not until the parlour-pond had thoroughly established itself as a fashion that the press detected in it a source of profit. Book-makers and book-publishers then saw their opportunity, and were not slow to embrace it: the press teemed with aquariums. My friend Mr. Van Voorst took the lead in this movement, and amid the surging wave of aquarian literature, original and imitative, his volumes are still the best and most likely to endure. I will give the titles and dates of those aquarian volumes which appear to possess inherent excellence, interspersing those of a few tracts which, although of minor importance, assisted greatly in fanning into flame the fire that had already been kindled.
1850. On the Adjustment of the Relation between the Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms, by which the Vital Functions of both are Permanently Maintained. By Robert Warington. (' Zoologist' for 1850, p. 2868).
1803. Observations on the Natural History of the Water Snail and Fish kept a confined and limited portion of Water, By Robert Warington ('Zoologist' for 1852, p. 3633.)
1853. On Preserving the Balance between the Animal and Vegetable Organisms in Sea Water. By Robert Warington. Read at the Hull Meeting of the British Association. (Printed in the 'Annals and Magazine of Natural History' for November, 1853, and at p. 4118 of the ' Zoologist' for 1853).
1853. Aqua-vivarium. An article by Dr. Edwin Lankester. (Printed in the Natural History Division of the 'English Encyclopedia.')
1853. A Naturalist's Rambles on the Devonshire Coast. By Philip Henry Gosse. 452 pp. letter-press and 28 plates, most of them coloured.
1854. The Aquarium; an Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep Sea. By Philip Henry Gosse. 278 pp. letter-press, 6 coloured plates, and 6 engravings on wood.
1856. Tenby; a Sea-side Holiday. By Philip Henry Goese. 400 pp. letter-press and 23 plates, most of them coloured.
1858. The Aquarian Naturalist; a Manual for the Sea-side. By Thomas Rymer Jones. 524 pp. letter-press and 8 coloured plates.
1860. Actinologia Britannica; a History of the British Sea Anemones and Corals. By Philip Henry Gosse. 362 pp. letter-press and 11 plates, 10 of them coloured.
These delightful works abounded with lucid descriptions, pleasing pictures, poetic quotations, and graphic accounts of the doings of aquatic animals as first seen by the assistance of the aquarium: nothing can exceed the beauty of some of the word painting by Philip Henry Gosse; and as for Thomas Rymer Jones, he is overflowing with poetry: no less than one hundred and sixty-two quotations, or as I may call them "snatches of song," are scattered through his "pleasant pages." He seems to have been so led away by his subject that he could not resist the impulse to break forth into melody.
A complete change had now taken place in the element as well as in the style of treating of it, the water employed for the experiments during the first era being almost invariably fresh, during the second period almost entirely salt: the object during the first era was almost entirely confined to the habits of the living tenants of the aquarium; during the second period, the fashion, admeasurements, size, materials, structure and ornamentation entered largely into aquarian literature; indeed these matters, utterly ignored by Bowerbank and his followers, became of paramount importance.
Mr. Gosse says: -
"The tank is 2 feet long, l foot wide, l foot deep; the sides and the ends of 1/16th plate-glass; the bottom of slate, the comers of beech wood, turned into pillars, each surmounted by a knob, and united by a frame top going all round. The glass is set in grooves in the slate and wood, and fastened with white-lead putty. ' - 'Aquarium,' p. 101.
Mr. Warington, after experimenting unsuccessfully for some years, gave instruction for the making of a small tank as a more permanent reservoir, with certain improved modifications as regards form and the admission of light. He writes thus: -
"From the experience I had obtained in my experiments with the fresh-water tank, I was induced to modify slightly the construction of the vessel; thus at the back or part towards the light the framing was filled with slate, in the same way as the ends and bottom; for I had found that the glass originally employed very soon became covered with a confervoid growth which had an unpleasing appearance to the eye, and in consequence of which I have been obliged to paint the glass on the exterior to prevent the growth from increasing to too great an extent. It was almost an unnatural mode of illumination, as all the light should pass through the surface of the water. The front towards the room and the observer was constructed of plate-glass, the whole being set in a stout frame-work of zinc and cemented with what is known under the name of Scott's cement, and which I have found to answer for the purpose most admirably. Within the tank were arranged several large pieces of rockwork thrown into an arched form, and other fragments were cemented against the state at the back and ends, and at parts along the water-line, so that the creatures could hide themselves at pleasure; a short beach of pebbles was also constructed in order that shallow water could be resorted to if desired; the whole tank was covered with a light glass shade to keep out the dust and retard evaporation." Zoologist,' 4ll9.
Professor Rymer Jones, modestly referring to Mr. Warington and Mr. Gosse as his authorities, recapitulates Mr. Warington's instruction, and points out its advantages :-
"First, that it allows of a most extended view of the whole interior of the aquarium.
"Secondly, that it enables the occupants to resort to any depth they may desire, or even to ascend the sloping back and emerge from the water.
"Thirdly, it admits of a much larger surface being exposed to the action of light; and
"Fourthly, the sloping top allows the water which condenses on the glass to trickle off and return to the aquarium without first resting on the zinc or iron frame-work. It need hardly be suggested that the sloping back is to be covered with light rockwork extending to a short distance above the water line." - ' The Aquarian Naturalist,' p. 6.
Each of these various instructions, insisting on the exclusive use of putty, while lead, red lead, Scott's cement, &c., were severally regarded as embodying the perfection of human wisdom until the next adviser suggested an improvement; but notwithstanding this wide divergence on minor points, it is an important fact that all aquarian authorities seem to have deliberately considered and tested, and then uniformly rejected and condemned, all attempts at aeration or circulation.
Dr. Lankester avers that circulation is only needed as "precautionary" until the vegetation is quite established. Mr. Warington says, "With the sea-water obtained in January, 1852, 1 have been working without cessation up to the present time, agitating and aerating when it became foul during unsuccessful experiments on the sea-weeds, but since then it has rarely been disturbed," and then he emphatically adds, and I think it desirable to express his decision by italics: " It must be decidedly understood that no agitation or so-called aeration it required when the balance of animal and vegetable life is properly established." This sentiment, perhaps somewhat less decidedly expressed, runs through all the aquarian books of this era: I wish, indeed, to show beyond the possibility of doubt, that the system of aeration and circulation belong to the third era, but it were of no avail to supplement fiat of the leader with the milder enunciations of the followers; it is like adding wine and water to wine.
It must not, however, be supposed for a single instant that the aquarian literature of the era is restricted to dry and useless advices or mistaken prohibitions: such a conclusion would be decidedly erroneous, utterly opposed to fact, and Mr. Gosse's work especially abounds in truthful descriptions of aquatic life which might fairly challenge a comparison with anything that has ever been written on the “manners and customs" of the World of Animals. I will make but one extract in proof of this, a long one indeed, but I cannot divide it without destroying its value, and as for making an abstract or abridgment, it is quite out of the question. The author's ideas might possibly be conveyed in an abstract, but the life, the soul of the passage would be wanting if I robbed it of the author's phraseology.
"The Sepiola. - My notions of the Cephalopoda, derived from figures of the various species in books, were anything but agreeable. I thought of them as hideous, repulsive, fierce, atrocious creatures, hated and feared whenever seen. But an Acquaintance with the pretty Sepiola vulgaris has not a little modified these ideas; and its beauty, sprightliness, and curious habits have made it quite a favourite pet among the denizens of my Aquarium. I take it in considerable numbers in this Bay, by means of the keer-drag already described, which rakes the bottom. It is a little creature, rarely exceeding an inch in length; though the extensibility of its arms somewhat varies its dimensions. When we turn out two or three from the net into a pail of sea water, they are at first restless and active. They shoot hither and thither, as if by a direct effort of will, but in reality by the impulse of rapid and forcible jets of water directed towards various points from the mouth of the flexible funnel situated beneath the body. After a few moments they suspend themselves in mid-water, hovering for many seconds in the same spot, scarcely moving a hair's breadth either way, but waving their large circular swimming-fins rapidly and regularly up and down, just like the wings of an insect. Indeed, the resemblance of the little Cephalopod, in these circumstances, to a brown moth hovering over a flower, is most close and striking, and cannot fail to suggest an interesting comparison. The body is held in a horizontal position, the large protuberant eyes gazing on either side; and the arms, grouped together into a thick bundle, hang freely downwards. If you essay to count these organs you find only eight; and even if you are aware that one of the characters of the genus is to have ten, of which two are much longer than the rest, you may search for these latter a long time in vain. Of course I mean during the life and the health of the animal, when its impatience of being handled presents obstacles to a very accurate investigation; you may then turn it over and over with a stick, and look at the bundle of arms from above and below in turn, now grouped together and now thrown all abroad in anger at being teased; still you can make out but eight. It was not until after many trials that I at length caught a peep at the missing organs - the pair of long arms - and discovered that it is the animal's habit to carry them closely coiled up into little balls, and packed down upon the mouth at the bottom of the oral cavity. If we manage to insert the point of a pin in the coil, and stretch out the spiral filament, the little creature impatiently snatches it away and in a twinkling rolls it up again.
"A zealous votary of the circular system would seize on this analogy with the spirally folded tongue of a moth, and triumphantly adduce it as additional proof that the Cephalopoda represent, in the Mollusca circle, the Lepidoptera among insects. While thus hovering motionless in the water, the Sepiola presents a fair opportunity for observing its curious transitions of colour, which are great and sudden. We can scarcely assign any hue proper to it. Now it is nearly white or pellucid, with a faint band of brown specks along the back, through which the internal viscera glisten like silver. In an instant the specks become spots, that come and go, and change their dimensions and their forms, and appear and disappear momentarily. The whole body - arms, fins, and all, - the parts which before appeared free, display the spots which, when looked at attentively, are seen to play about in the most singular manner, having the appearance of a coloured fluid, injected with constantly varying force into cavities in the substance of the skin, of ever-changing dimensions. Now the spots become rings, like the markings of a panther's skin; and as the little creature moves slightly, either side beneath the fin is seen to glow with metallic lustre, like that of gold leaf seen through horn. Again the rings unite and coalesce, and form a beautiful netted pattern of brown, which colour increasing leaves the interspaces a series of white spots on the rich dark ground. These and other phases are every instant interchanging and passing suddenly and momentarily into each other with the utmost irregularity. But here is a change! One is hovering in quiescence, his colour pale, almost white; one of his fellows shoots along just over him; with the quickness of thought, the alarmed creature turns from white to an uniform deep brown, the rich full colour suffusing the skin in a second, like a blush on a young maiden's face. The hue is very beautiful; it is the fine, deep, sienna-tint of tortoise-shell; a substance which, indeed, the mingling clouds of brown and pellucid horn closely resemble in the intermediate phases of colour. Hitherto we have seen the Sepiola only in the pail of water into which it was turned out of the net. After a little while it drops upon the bottom, and crouching up remains motionless; if you rouse it, it will again swim for a few minutes, but presently seeks some corner, into which it thrusts its rear, and huddles up as before. This is all that you will see of its habits under such circumstances; for In all probability the morning will reveal your protègè a lump of white jelly, dead and stiff, with uncoiled arms, on the naked floor of his prison. But introduce him while in health into an Aquarium, where living sea-plants are perpetually revivifying the water, and where the bottom, varied with sand, gravel, and pieces of rock, imitates the natural floor of the sea, and you will soon see other particulars in the economy of our little friend, which will, I doubt not, charm you as much as they have pleased me. The Sepiola is a burrower; and very cleverly and ingeniously does it perform a task which we might at first suppose a somewhat awkward one - the insertion of its round corpulent body into the sand or gravel. Watch it as it approaches the bottom, after a season of hovering play such as I have described. It drops down to within an inch of the sand, then hangs suspended, as if surveying the ground for a suitable bed. Presently it selects a spot; the first indication of its choice being that a hollow about the size of a silver four pence is forcibly blown out of the sand immediately beneath the group of pendant arms. Into the cavity so made the little animal drops; at that instant the sand is blown out on all sides from beneath the body backward, and the abdomen is thrust downward before the cloud of sand which has been blown up settles, but which presently falls around and upon the body. Another forcible puff in front, one on each side, and another behind, follow in quick succession, the fine sand displaced at each blast settling round the animal, as it thrusts itself into the hollow thus more and more deepened. I was not at first quite sure by what agency these blowings, so admirably effective and suited to the purpose, were performed. The jet in front I readily attributed to the action of the fleshy funnel projecting from beneath the mantle on the breast: but I did not see how this could blow a stream directly backwards. I therefore put one of my pets into a vessel with glass sides, which was furnished with the requisite sand and water. I at once saw that the funnel was indeed the organ employed, and the only one, in every case; and perceived its beautiful adaptation for the work it had to do, in its extreme flexibility. This organ is very protrusile, and being perfectly flexible, its orifice can be, and is, at will pointed in any direction, so as to blow the jet of water forward, backward, or to either side at pleasure. It frequently occurs, of course, that small stones are mingled with the sand, or the animal may find it convenient to burrow in the loose gravel. In either case the arms come to the aid of the funnel, the sucking disks with which they are furnished being made to adhere to the stones, which are dragged out and thrown aside. You may suppose this to be a clumsy expedient, but you would think differently if you saw it; the rapidity with which the arms are thrust under, and drawn out, bearing pieces of stone of comparatively large size, and the graceful ease with which they are then thrown forward, discharging and dropping the burden, impress the mind with admiration of the beautiful fitness of the organization for the requirement. This use of the funnel, and of the sucking arms, so different from their normal purposes, affords additional examples of that Divine economy in creation, which, when a new formation is ordained, does not always form new and special organs for the necessity, but adapts some already employed in other service for the new work; while still both the one and the other function are fulfilled with such perfection as shows that every emergency was foreseen and provided for in the mighty plan, and that it was not for want of resources that distinct actions are performed by the same instrumentality. We admire the skill of the artizan who can effect different operations with the same tool, especially when we see that each kind of work is of faultless excellence. The ordinary employment of the sucking arms is no doubt the same as in other Cephalopoda, the capture and retention of prey. Of this I saw an instance in the case of one of my Sepiolæ which had seized a shrimp (Crangon trispinosus), a sand-burrower like itself, and was, when I saw it, holding it firmly against the horny jaws, which were devouring it. The discharge of ink through the funnel I have also witnessed, though this is far from being a frequent action with this species. One of them that had been for a day or two in an Aquarium, and was evidently at home there, I put into another vessel. No other animal was present, but the strangeness of the new abode evidently frightened it; it darted about in manifest alarm and excitement, and presently shot forth from its funnel a cloud of inky fluid to a distance of several inches; another and another discharge succeeded in rapid sequence, and it was not for some time that the animal recovered its equanimity. It did not appear to me that this fluid could be of much service to the little creature in the way of concealment; for although the matter was tolerably copious, and densely black, it did not diffuse itself in the water, but remained in masses, and when moved with a stick was drawn into slimy strings."
Here ends the second era in the history of the aquarium, and although we are indebted so greatly to the leaders of this period for their patient research and indomitable perseverance, it cannot truthfully be denied that a large share of these qualities was wasted on useless instructions about selecting and cultivating sea-weeds; in cruel and mistaken advice to keep the captives without food; and in denouncing the very principle, that of aeration and circulation, by which alone the aquarium can become permanent.
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